An Invitation for Gorbachev?

May 22, 1991

Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev should be invited to the July summit of the seven major industrial democracies in London. This question, which is suddenly high on the international agenda, figured prominently in Washington talks this week between President Bush and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Neither of these leaders would commit himself, but Mr. Kohl was decidedly more receptive to the idea.

It is time, in our view, for the Bush administration to stop hanging back. If the president is sincere in his desire to help the embattled Kremlin leader, the time is now. CIA analyses confirm that the Soviet economy is in a catastrophic tailspin. After months of confrontation, central authorities in Moscow are seeking reconciliation with autonomy-minded republics to prevent chaos. Economic and political reform is somewhat back in favor, and the Gorbachev regime is ostensibly lifting hoary Communist restrictions on emigration.

Given all these factors, plus Germany's eagerness to foster the departure of Soviet troops from its soil, it is easy to see why Mr. Kohl has vowed "a definitive answer" to the Gorbachev question soon. But what about Mr. Bush? His administration is deeply divided over the wisdom of a bilateral superpower summit unless there is a strategic arms reduction treaty to be signed. We continue to believe U.S. policy should be: "No treaty, no summit." Mr. Gorbachev's appearance at an eight-power London conference would not compromise this formulation. And it still would give Mr. Bush a chance for face-to-face talks with Mr. Gorbachev.

If Mr. Gorbachev gets the cold shoulder, this surely would be interpreted as a rebuff no matter how hard the European Community tries to soften the blow. Yet if the Soviet president goes to London and gets very little to show for it, this could have negative consequences, too.

Both the chancellor and Mr. Bush seem to be in general agreement that until the Soviets define their future political structure, there can be no hope of genuine economic reform and revival. And until these conditions are met, there is little incentive for the industrial democracies to offer more than technical advice. Yet what Mr. Gorbachev wants is economic aid, like the $1.5 billion in agricultural credits he has requested from Washington.

It is true now and it will be true in the future that Germany, not the United States, will have to be the Soviet Union's chief financial backer. Chancellor Kohl pointed out Germany has already pledged or contributed $33.7 billion to the Soviet economy plus another $7.5 billion to facilitate the exodus of 380,000 Soviet troops. When Germany's $17 billion for central and southeastern Europe and $5.5 billion in Polish credits is added in, the German leader is correct in saying "our commitment is considerably greater than that of other Western partners." If Mr. Kohl decides Mr. Gorbachev should be present in London, Mr. Bush would be wise to endorse such a dramatic overture.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.